Entrepreneurs are born, not made, says the management guru Charles Handy. For all that, it seems that plenty of graduates who have gone into the City or into management consultancy find, after a while, that they want to create something themselves and choose an MBA with an entrepreneurial twist. According to an Association of MBAs' survey, over 25 per cent of all MBA students want to start up their own business.
Strathclyde Business School is a good example of providing this, greatly helped by the formation of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, named after Scotland's richest entrepreneur, sports goods retailer Tom Hunter. Strathclyde offers, like others, a wide range of entrepreneurial electives including small business marketing and new ventures.
Engineer Mubassher Khanzada is studying for his MBA over two years at Strathclyde. "Apart from the MBA, I have been going to night classes at Strathclyde's Hunter Centre, and those have given me a lot of confidence," he says.
It is just as well, because Khanzada has been working for some time on his own entrepreneurial mission, an IT system called Welltime which aims to reduce the wastage, up to £400m a year he says, that occurs when patients fail to turn up for medical appointments.
A full-blown Strathclyde success story is ex-RAF engineer Jamie Smith who in December 2003 launched a winter sports centre in Glenco in the Highlands. "I graduated in 1998 and it took me seven years to get The Ice Factory off the ground, partly because we had so much decontamination to do - the building was an old smelting plant.
"Venture capitalists were queuing up for me to set it up in a city, but I wanted it where the mountains are. Finding backing was hard for what was a first. But things are great now - we've have had 20,000 visitors to the centre so far."
Would-be entrepreneurs have a wide choice of business schools keen to help them with start-up ideas. Imperial College, Warwick, Edinburgh, Durham, Manchester, Birmingham, Cranfield and the London Business School (LBS) all run courses in entrepreneurship. LBS created 30-plus businesses at the end of the Nineties, a third are still going: some were sold at a profit, others went bust.
MBA students specialise in entrepreneurship specifically to get help developing an idea; it's seen as an ideal way to gain knowledge and confidence before launching a business. It helps the would-be entrepreneur make shortcuts, know more about the options and maybe acquire some of the skills that the natural entrepreneurs have instinctively.
All Cranfield's MBA students do its business start-up module and there are four other entrepreneurship elective courses. Recently, students of the Royal College of Art presented various innovations looking for MBA promoters - a "snowbone" which is added to a snowboard to improve performance, self -heating crockery with NHS meals in mind, and an S-Clasp for fastening back packs.
MBA student Eric Rong was impressed particularly by one idea he saw from a student at the Royal College of Art - a digital clock embedded in concrete that worked using heat. Rong's plan is to develop the clock for the Beijing Olympic Games.
Cranfield lecturer in entrepreneurship David Molian says: "The idea is that Cranfield students bring their entrepreneurial skills to get these innovative ideas off the ground. Our student mix is slightly older and cosmopolitan, these are important for doing deals and exploiting the international potential of the projects."
Manchester Business School is a bit different in that most of the students on its entrepreneurship MBA are already owner-managers of businesses, looking for direction and inspiration. Professor John Arnold says: "Students have been able to do an entrepreneurship project where they work with small businesses, and they develop a feasibility study for a new company. There is also the school's incubator where a small number of growing ventures develop business plans and students work alongside entrepreneurs."
For those with an eye to financing projects, it is worth considering a school that can provide this, like LBS or the Saïd School at Oxford University. The latter is only four years old but already 10 per cent of its students have started their own company. Ventures include Uzbekistan's first investment bank, technology and not-for-profit digital science start-ups.
One of the attractions of LBS is its Sussex Place Ventures (SPV), which seeks out funds for students, many of whom are already working on a venture, or find one once there. Keith Willey, head of SPV, says: "We have helped fund Richard Downs's travel agency iglu.com, which is profitable. Another success has been Roam Ware Inc, set up by alumnus Vijay Uttarwar which enables someone with a mobile phone to receive all the extras while travelling abroad."
American Professor John Mullins, chair of the entrepreneurship faculty at LBS comments: "The hottest thing on campus right now is entrepreneurship. Just one example, student Stephen Alexander has set up Casablanca Polo, a niche provider of polo kit. It may sound narrow but entrepreneurs don't take on the world, they start in a very focused way. We don't make entrepreneurs and we would say you can't teach speed or hard work or the high energy levels required or the mental toughness. But we offer seven courses to help. We help the would-be entrepreneur to make choices. We also have excellent contacts for them to plunder."
One of his students was Adam Burdess who set up homepro.com, a directory of home improvement professionals, in 2000. It is a success story which he sold out of in late 2003 because it was relocating to the North-west.
Burdess says: "An MBA can give you the vocabulary, the mechanics, the tools of start up. What it cannot prepare you for is the emotional rollercoaster of the actual experience. You find out amazing things about your own ability and the most incredible opportunities emerge which you would never have imagined. You make all sorts of mistakes too, many of them you just can't prepare for."
Some people are put off by the demands of an entrepreneur, says Burdess. He took the plunge because he was frustrated with the other things he had tried. "I can't go back to PAYE now, I am looking for another enterprise," he says.Reuse content